The challenge of fitting the local and global pieces together.
Building relationships with the neighbourhood
The IFRC Community PARK project, as an exercise in participatory urban engagement, involves all the complexity that typically accompanies a process involving familiar and intimate worlds. The biggest challenges in communication emerge when people who know each other well, like families and neighbours, have to negotiate to share space.
Rather than physical distance, it is proximity that can create barriers in communication. This happens when social categories such as gender, class, power, rank, office or ethnicity become obstacles to speaking freely with each other. Local participation is always difficult. It involves face to face interactions, dealing with the sensitivities of conflicting neighbours, of working through differences of opinions and finding ways of co-existence even when there is disagreement. When the process involves sharing of space – especially of a valued resource such as a forest and a garden - the stakes go higher.
Organizations that belong to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, know only too well the real challenges of dealing with conflicts of all kinds, including those with the natural world. Perhaps for this reason they also know that dealing with such complexities in one’s own back yard is particularly challenging. Converting them into a creative force is what successful urban participation is all about.
A neighbour who doesn’t agree or see eye-to-eye can be a life-long adversary – or the biggest resource and ally. It is only when community building involves dialogues and conversations, listening and being heard and accepting that there is a reason why the fundamental principles of global peace overlap with those of neighbourhood conviviality, can we appreciate the efforts of the ongoing participatory process.
The Director of the IFRC, Francoise Le Goff made this point when talking of the value of neighbours working together.
According to her the partnership between IFRC and urbz has a double benefit – since urbz works as a specialist in participatory urban planning and as a neighbour. It is a fine
neighbourly coincidence and an opportunity for exchanging expertise. IFRC itself is full of experts that deal with similar contexts but mostly at a global level. This makes having local involvement valuable on its own and an exchange of ideas between the two an invaluable resource.
Negotiations are ongoing – evident in meeting after meeting, consultation after consultation. Conversations, conflicts, conviviality are all part of the process. urbz needs to prove its local (and global) value by keeping impartiality and neutrality always in mind – principles that it has learned from and shares with IFRC. A challenging task no doubt – given the diversity of opinions and interests involved – but that is what makes its commitment to participation more rigorous.
As Francoise Le Goff puts it: each presence in the neighbourhood makes a community, and a community must share values and projects together. We mix the local and the global, the individual and the collective and urbz needs to put all these pieces of puzzle together.
Interview with the Director of the IFRC, Francoise Le Goff